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JJ Keith

JJ Keith is a Los Angeles based mom of two who will be performing in our upcoming show next month here in LA. She originally posted this on her own blog, it’s about the frustration of trying to write with two young kids.

Death Knells of Double Tall Caramel Macchiato.

Doing anything with two toddlers is like walking in ten feet of snow, barefoot, underwater, in 125 degree heat while it’s hailing. Did I mention uphill? And it’s a really steep hill. So running errands with my three-year-old daughter and my one-and-a-half-year-old son is not my favorite thing to do. Every bump in the sidewalk is a potential calamity and every shop door a terrifying barrier. While out and about I struggle to not accost passers by and demand, “DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THIS IS? STOP LOOKING SO CAREFREE AND RUBBING IT IN MY FACE!”

But because I had no choice I took my kids with me to do a string of errands, all of which were on one street so at least we were able to walk from store to store. After navigating four shops with two kids and one false-alarm-potty-emergency, we schlepped to Starbucks to pick up a double tall caramel macchiato, a treat for me to sip when I put the kids down for their naps and could finally get to my writing. As we entered Starbucks my daughter cut in front of my son’s stroller, blocking me from entering the store. “No coffee. I don’t like coffee,” she asserted. Not content to let the point rest there, she continued in her meandering but utterly charming three-year-old style: “You’re not being nice. It isn’t fair. Swiper no swiping. No coffee. I like coffee cake. We have a coffee table. I hit my head and they you say, ‘oh no’ to me and I say, ‘watch out, there’s a bear!’ I’m a princess and you’re a kingdom and he’s a jaguar. Rwar rwar!”

But I wanted that double tall caramel macchiato so I picked my kid up with one arm and pushed the stroller through the doorway with the other. Once my daughter was placated with promises of chocolate milk and coffee cake, I had a moment in line to scope out the store for writers, a dangerous thing to do if you’re a stay-at-home mother hustling to write every moment her children are sleeping. The problem is that I don’t make enough money writing to pay for childcare and thus don’t have the time to write enough to make the money to pay for childcare. I hate that this is how the world works, but despite the inherent frustrations, I love being a stay-at-home mother, or at least I do when I’m not running errands.

As I waited to order, I set my eyes on a man by the condiment bar working in MS Word. I pinned him as a creative type who had time to waste before getting down to working on his assignments, all of which were surely well-renumerated. I glared at him as my children squirmed and whined, and felt such a flood of envy that if I had been pricked with a pin at that moment I would not have bled, but oozed vitriol. As the man gazed out the window and let his document evaporate into a screensaver, I fantasized about grabbing him by the lapels of his finely hewn natural fiber jacket and demanding the business card of his agent. Or better, just pushing him out of the way and filling his screen with words, good ones, probably better than his. I wanted that man to offer to watch my kids while I wrote something huge and spiraling, something that would hurt to read. Then I wanted him to apologize for taking my job, as if there’s some finite amount of work for writers and everyone who has an assignment screwed me over to get it.

But instead I ordered my double tall caramel macchiato, picked it up from the bar, then set out for my car with the kids in tow. The whole way home I thought about the coffee I would drink, the words I would write and the way I would feel completely like myself as I did so. I convinced myself that an hour and a half is enough time to write. Since becoming a mother, I have tended to my writing like a daytime campfire — something I don’t need just yet, but when the night falls I’ll throw everything I’ve got on it until flames lick the sky. As much as I savor the buttery rolls and slippery hair of my babies, I am looking forward to the time when I can be a mother, but also something else.

When we finally got home, I parked my double tall caramel macchiato on the dining room table while I got my kids situated. As I tended to my son, my daughter peed in the bushes and — consequently — her shoes. While I was washing the pee off her feet, my son climbed on the table and sent my coffee tumbling to its death. It’s almost as if he didn’t realize that I’d conflated that cup of coffee with the writing career that I can’t seem to grasp when I already have a kid in each hand.

As my coffee bled out on the floor, I dropped to my knees and cried, at first because I wanted that coffee so badly, but then because I was crying over coffee. After a moment of hideous self-pity, I got myself together, and mopped the coffee up so I could get to work.

Anna Bocci West

Anna Bocci West is a Los Angeles mom to two children. She will be performing in our upcoming LA show next month.

It hasn’t been easy to stay creative since becoming a mom.  So much of my life is dominated by my kids’ lives and schedules that when I do have free time, I rarely feel very creative.  But I’ve learned that I can’t ignore that part of myself.  As much as I adore my kids, they don’t fulfill that part of me. And without it, I’m not my best self.

I am an actress, which you would think is a very creatively fulfilling line of work.  But the truth is, since having kids, most of my work has been in television commercials. It’s a great job with good pay and a lot of free time.  So perfect “mom job”, right?  But creatively fulfilling? Not exactly.  It’s usually a one or two-day shoot where we stick to the copy and do our best to sell someone’s product.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I wrote, produced and starred in a short film which we took on the film festival circuit, receiving various awards for our work. I was so happy to be creating my own story and to be in charge of the outcome for once.

It really stuck with me that I need to take more control of the free time that I do have, and to create opportunities for myself that satisfy me creatively.  So I’m trying to do more of that.

About a year ago, I decided to begin exploring my passion for Interior Design.  I’ve done some residential jobs and some “television designing”, which has been really fun.

In order to figure out how seriously I want to take it, I’ve started taking classes at Otis School of Design. I don’t know if I can juggle both careers, and I’m not willing to give up acting just yet. But regardless, I’m focusing on a different part of my creative self six hours a week (usually at night or on Sunday afternoons), and that feels good. I’m even learning to draw!  No more stick figures when I’m drawing with my kids. 🙂

So that’s me.

80% Anna West, mother of Owen and Winslow.

20% Anna Bocci, creative chick who’s just looking for an outlet.

I feel very lucky.  🙂

Susan Sheu

Below is our first creative mom that we will be featuring, the first of many we hope! Susan Sheu has performed in our show here in LA before and will be again this Fall. She’s a mother to two children.  

When my first child was two years old, I took a weekend writing workshop with a Famous Writer.  My father had died several years earlier, and trying to process the grief gave rise to the germ of a family memoir.  I’d been writing on and off since before my daughter was born, although not in a systematic way, just bursts of memories I recorded while stealing time away from my real job (as a graduate student in public health).

But ever since my daughter was born, the desire to write a book burned brighter than ever.  Having given birth to a new generation, I discovered that being a parent gave me new insight into the story I had been trying to write about my parents.  When I wasn’t too tired, I’d write in short, intense bursts in the middle of the night, inspired by something that had occurred to me during the day while schlepping my daughter around to the park and Mommy and Me classes.  It was the best I could do at the time, and what flowed from my brain through my fingertips into the computer felt true and raw and necessary.

In the writers workshop the Famous Writer held up my densely packed personal essay after my fellow writers had read it and said,

“This is what happens when you don’t allow yourself to write very often.”

I was caught off-guard, but I didn’t take offense.  I could tell by her substantive critiques that she viewed what I’d written as decent material.  She meant not only that I would need to carve out more time to write but also that there is no shortcut to a fully formed piece of writing or any piece of art.

My daughter is almost ten years old now, and I wish I could say that I’ve completed my book; it sold well; I have a killer literary agent and a contract for my next book.  That is not the case.  Nearly seven years ago, I gave birth to a baby boy, and he has proven as great a source of inspiration to write and distraction from writing as his older sister is.  As John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

But I have been working as much as I can, reading, taking part in writers groups, classes, and workshops when time permits, and I have written and performed pieces in writers’ shows in Los Angeles (including Expressing Motherhood).  Some of the best classes I’ve taken have been with the writers Samantha Dunn, Amy Friedman, and Hope Edelman at the UCLA Writers Program.  When I am a quivering shell of an LA person who’s been driving too much to write, I drive to LACMA or the Getty or go see performances by the friends I’ve made who are actors and writers.

 

 

I’m happy to report that I am writing this from my first writers’ residency (some people call it a writers colony, but that sounds too much like nudist colony for me).  I’m at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts along with a group of other writers, visual artists, and composers who are in residence for anywhere from one week to one month.  It’s beautiful, quiet, and inspiring, and someone else is doing the cooking and cleaning. My kids are with my husband and my mom back in LA, and we FaceTime once a day.  I wouldn’t have been ready for a residency a few years ago, but I am now.  And I believe that the book that’s nearing completion now is better than the one I would have written several years ago, when I was a younger mother full of piss and vinegar.

Meet Our Graphic Designer

We have been lucky enough to have my former neighbor and friend, Agnete Oernsholt, be our graphic designer. I have used the old barter system with her and in exchange for me watching her daughter, who happens to be my son’s great friend, she designs our artwork.

I have loved popping over to her house through out the years to go over ideas. Agnete is strict about keeping things look a certain way. This is Agnete. She’s a former model and tall and beautiful. So I always feel extra short and stumpy around her but it’s worth it.

Agnete doesn’t always look this way. She did this for halloween. Gorgeous!

Agnete drew inspiration for that look from Dios de Los Muertos at Hollywood Forever in LA.Dios de Los Muertos

Her husband, Marcel Langenegger, also hand wrote our logo.

Marcel hand wrote this out of the kindness out of his heart. The dude is a working director. That’s the kind of homespun shop we are.

Here is a look at some of the artwork Agnete has created for us:

a I love this design and tote. It has been met with some criticism, mainly the word fat. I never thought of it as we were saying moms were fat but rather sometimes (cough) a mom can feel fat. Like me right now.

And that is a glimpse into how we create our artwork! A big thanks to Agnete for helping us out all of these years.

Agnete Oernsholt & ExMo Director Lindsay

Our Expressing Motherhood Blog

 

My producing partner and fellow co-creator Jessica Cribbs and myself started “Expressing Motherhood” in January 2008. We have always built this show around the ability to do it  in an amount of time that worked for us since we are both stay at home moms.

People have asked us if we have a blog and we have said no. I started blogging back in ’06 but shut it down in ’08 with the show’s conception. Jessica does have her own blog at Strength of a Rose.  Jessica just finished a three day conference in NYC called BlogHer and we’ve become inspired to open an Expressing Motherhood blog. 

We want to highlight creative moms out there. Former and current Expressing Motherhood performers, people who haven’t been in the show but who are still channeling their creativity post baby. We also will feature resources for the creative mom, like BlogHer, which Jessica will be weighing in on with her thoughts soon.

We are looking to highlight all creativity stemming from moms! Focusing in on how they find time to be creative and what their creative journey has looked like. 

I found the first piece ever performer for our show. Titled, “Mom Jeans.” Written by me and I think it nicely sums up the idea for the show and the intention of our blog.

On the evening I found out I was pregnant, I was drinking a beer and watching a show on birth defects. It was this show that made me put my beer down, head upstairs and take a pregnancy test. Then I curled up into the fetal position and cried for 10 minutes repeating over and over again I’m scared. My husband patted my back the entire time. When I was finished crying I made him finish the rest of my beer and have a couple more in honor of me.

4 months after my son was born I hired a babysitter. I went out shopping to Urban Outfitters. I was reveling in a couple hours of freedom. As the young, feminine man was ringing my purchases up he said, you’re a mom, hmm, you don’t look like a mom. Thanks!

Then I was walking to my car thinking. What does a mom look like? Instantly a picture of a geeky Christmas sweater popped into my head, along with pearl earrings and high waisted jeans that accentuate ones flat ass.

Awesome. He thinks I’m cool, not like that kind of mom.

That’s what has hit me with becoming a mom. This feeling that my desires have had to be put on the back burner. My desires to be cool, hip and yes I know it’s completely un-cool to admit this especially in LA. My greatest desire, my desire to be creative. These are so hard to own once you become a mom.

My need and desire to express myself that’s why I moved to LA. I wanted to become a director. Not a career drop out. AKA mom.

I’m sorry but that’s what I thought of moms at the time.

Maybe it’s because I watched too many movies in the 80’s that involved high powered women. Or maybe it’s some comments that have played upon my insecurities. Comments such as, her career wasn’t going anywhere, she might have just as well had that baby.

There is loss that comes along with becoming a mom. We really have to schedule our time. We have to power house through ideas during nap time or hire a babysitter. And as we all know naps are erratic and irregular and babysitters cost money. And the guilt, I’m not even going to talk about the guilt because my mother in law is busy doing that for me.

The day my son was born I fell instantly in love with him. It was cliché and yet it doesn’t happen that way for all moms. My former feelings of ambivalence and fear were washed away. I was instantly in love.

I was also struck by a thought and that was; I wished I had based all previous decisions on love. Not fear, selfishness, etc.

In an attempt to honor that. I present to you my naptime project,  a play built out of the need and desire to express myself.

My belly shot turned into our first artwork for the program.